Explorations by Kenley Neufeld

Hiring Library Workers

By on August 17, 2010

Aerial photo: Santa Barbara, California
Image via Wikipedia

There isn’t much turnover at the Luria Library, so when we have the opportunity to bring on a new person, we have to consider someone for the long term. Up until four years ago, the average length of employment in the library was probably around 16 years. The longest term employee in the library is also the longest term employee on campus – 45 years! Of course, this can’t be maintained forever and our average has gone way down because three of the nine employees have retired, including the most recent vacancy. This time we were hiring for our evening circulation person.

We didn’t hire because of growth, though we certainly could justify that, but because of necessity. Without this position, the library would not remain open in the evening.

In this economy, in beautiful Santa Barbara, at an exciting and vibrant library, it isn’t surprising that we received almost 100 applications for this classified position. Further, many had Master degrees and/or PhD. As the Library Director, it was my job to select those who would be called in for an interview. Those selected come to campus for a panel interview. The panel then sends three finalists for the Library Director (me!) to interview and make a final selection.

The entire process took about three weeks. More than anything, those working at the checkout counter are the face of the library most people see and experience. A bad experience at checkout equals a bad experience at the library. When reviewing the applications, I was looking first at those with solid customer service experience. It didn’t matter if the experience was in a library or at the local coffee shop. Working with people is just too important. If you aren’t hiring people who like people then you are doing your library a disservice.

Bottom line: I want someone who loves libraries, loves working with the public, and has the character of confidence and compassion.

Our new hire began yesterday. Jeff came with twelve years of public library experience in their circulation department. Jeff brings to us both a background in libraries and years of working with the public. He is excited about his new working environment and it seems like he’ll stick around a while.

The training begins immediately and the students arrive in less than a week. Our library is extremely busy in the first two weeks of the semester, often bringing in up to 5,000 students in a single day. The probationary period is one year, but I am confident that we didn’t make a mistake.